Toast to William & Kate With the Champagne They’ll Be Drinking

You’ve selected your outfit. You’ve prepared an assortment of scones. All that’s missing from your royal wedding watch party is a bit of bubbly.

Toast to Prince William and Kate Middleton with the same Champagne the couple and their guests will be drinking — Pol Roger.

The Palace requested their non-vintage Brut Réserve to serve before the sit-down meal hosted by Prince Charles, according to Decanter.com.

The Champagne house located in Epernay, France has a tradition of producing sparkling wines that dates back to the mid 1800s.

Prince William and Kate aren’t the only Brits who enjoy sipping Pol Roger. Sir Winston Churchill was a big fan and became friends with Odette Pol-Roger after World War II. In 1975 the Champagne house created a cuvée in honor of the former Prime Minister.

In the past, Bollinger has been the Champagne of choice at royal weddings.  Queen Victoria issued a royal warrant to Bollinger in 1884, and Prince Charles chose it for his wedding to Lady Diana Spencer in 1981, according to Decanter.com.

The NV Pol Roger Brut Réserve is a blend of the three grapes allowed in Champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Golden straw in color, the sparkling wine has notes of white flowers, apples and red berries with a crisp, refreshing finish.

image from Pol Roger’s website

AG Pick Under $20: 2009 Carmel Road Monterey Chardonnay

Do you like your California Chardonnay to have a touch of oak but too often feel like you’re sucking on a piece of the barrel?  Then you’ll want to pick up a bottle of the 2009 Carmel Road Monterey Chardonnay.  This white gets oak just right, using it to enhance and not overwhelm the flavors from the grapes.

Carmel Road Winery is located in Monterey County in California’s Central Coast.  Their Chardonnay is made entirely from that variety, with grapes from three vineyards in the Salinas Valley.  The final wine is a blend of Chardonnay aged for seven months in French oak, American oak or stainless steel.

Golden yellow in color, the Chardonnay has bright aromas of tropical fruit.  These tropical notes expand on the palate, with flavors of pineapple, guava, golden apple, baked pear and a gentle touch of vanilla.  A slight creaminess is balanced out with good acidity, while mineral notes add additional layers and structure.  The finish is crisp with lingering lemon zest.

This is a versatile Chardonnay and can pair well with a variety of foods.  Try a glass with soft cheese, salads, chicken, fish or light pasta dishes.

The 2009 Carmel Road Monterey Chardonnay costs $18 a bottle.

13.5% alcohol by volume

Drink These: Standout Wines from the High Museum Wine Auction

This year’s High Museum Atlanta Wine Auction was a huge success, raising more money for the museum than ever before. Guests who attended the events had the chance to meet winemakers and winery owners as well as taste a large selection of wines available in the Atlanta area.

At the trade tasting more than 100 wineries poured one or several of their wines. The event featured a majority of California wines and included big names like Stag’s Leap and Shafer, plus a good selection of lesser known and boutique wineries.

With so many wines it was impossible to taste them all, though I certainly gave it my best effort.  Among the whites and reds I sipped, a number stood out. All are available in Georgia so look for them at wine shops and on restaurant wine lists.

Arkenstone Vineyards

My favorite white wine of the tasting was Arkenstone’s 2007 Sauvignon Blanc. It’s the kind of wine that makes a believer out of someone who says he or she doesn’t like Sauvignon Blanc. Full of flavor and elegant, it was a wine I really enjoyed sipping.

Arkenstone is located on the western shoulder of Howell Mountain in the Napa Valley. The Sauvignon Blanc is made entirely of grapes grown on the estate. The wine was aged for 11 months on the lees in a combination of French oak (some new), and stainless steel barrels. Rich and complex, the wine has flavors of green apple, lemongrass and ripe melon with lovely floral notes and flinty minerality. The finish is clean and satisfying with lingering citrus. Arkenstone also produces a delicious Cabernet blend and a Syrah.

Arkenstone Vineyards, Angwin, California

Big Table Farm

I was first drawn to Big Table Farm’s wines because of their labels and was sold after my first taste. Clare Carver, who manages the 70 acres and markets the wine along with winemaker Brian Marcy, draws the label art. Each image is inspired by life on their northwest Oregon farm. The labels are made by hand using a letterpress, then hand cut and hand glued to each bottle. The same loving care is put into their wine.

The wine with the cow label is the 2009 Pinot Noir from Resonance Vineyard in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Some of the grapes were stomped by foot, though Brian and Clare are sure to mention they wash their feet first.  The wine was aged on the lees in French oak. Oregon Pinot at its finest, this wine is a must-taste for Pinot Noir fans. Pictured is Haley the cow with the first calf born on the farm in spring 2010.

The wine with the ham is the 2007 Syrah from White Hawk Vineyard in Santa Barbara County. Opulent with dark fruit flavors and silky tannins, the wine is a real treat to sip. The ham pictured was raised, cured and smoked on the farm by Brian.

Big Table Farm, Gaston, Oregon

Hidden Ridge Vineyard

Compared to the neighboring tables that were lined with different bottles of white and red wine, the one bottle on Hidden Ridge’s table looked lonely. But after tasting the Cabernet Sauvignon it was clear to see that this wine was worthy of the entire space. Proprietor Casidy Ward poured the 2006 55% Slope Cabernet Sauvignon, which has chewy and intense notes of red plum, cherry and strawberry jam along with fennel seed and black tea.

Hidden Ridge Vineyard is located between Mount Hood and Diamond Mountain in the Mayacamas mountain range, on the western side of the Napa Valley. Casidy and her husband Lynn Hofacket are Oklahoma natives who purchased the property in 1991. Their wines are made entirely from Cabernet Sauvignon grown at Hidden Ridge.

Hidden Ridge Vineyard, Napa, California

Pali Wine Company

Pinot Noir can be very hit or miss. But when you want a Pinot that is a hit every time, pick out a bottle from Pali Wine Company.

Out of all the wineries in this article, Pali is the one I know best. I went over to their table at the Wine Auction tasting when my tongue was getting tired from too many big reds, knowing Pali’s great Pinot Noir would refresh my palate.

Pali produces a variety of Pinots from different regions and vineyards in California. The flavors differ but the high quality is consistent throughout each wine.

Pali Wine Company, Lompoc, California

Tres Sabores

Perhaps the only thing better than tasting the wines of Tres Sabores is chatting with winemaker and owner Julie Johnson. Incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about winemaking, Julie makes you a fan of Tres Sabores even before your first sip.

Tres Sabores, meaning three flavors in Spanish, is a small family-owned ranch on the western Rutherford Benchland of California’s Napa Valley. The three flavors refer to the three components that contribute to the wine’s unique taste and characteristics: the terroir, the grapes and the winemaker.

I especially liked the 2008 Rutherford Zinfandel with its spicy notes of blackberries and pepper, as well as the 2008 ¿Por Qué No?, a robust blend of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Cabernet, and Petit Verdot.

Tres Sabores, Rutherford, California

Vineyard Seven and Eight

I couldn’t decide which of the two Cabernet Sauvignons I liked better; both reds poured by winery manager and assistant winemaker Wesley Steffens were delicious.

This 40 acre vineyard and winery is located at the top of Spring Mountain in the Napa Valley. The 10 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon and four acres of Chardonnay were established in the early 1980s and benefit from the volcanic soil and location above the fog.

The 2007 “7” Cabernet Sauvignon is a blend of younger estate fruit and Spring Mountain fruit from select growers that was aged for 18 months in new French oak. It has big flavors of blackberries and cassis with mineral notes and sweet tannins. The 2007 “Estate” Cabernet Sauvignon is made entirely from estate fruit. Concentrated and intense with black fruit, licorice and floral notes with a long finish.

Vineyard Seven and Eight, St. Helena, California

Click here for more photos from the High Museum Wine Auction Trade Tasting

Taste of the Nation Atlanta 2011

“It seems like there is so much food and so much going to waste, so the thought of somebody going hungry is just impossible to understand,” said Chef Gerry Klaskala at the 23rd annual Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation Atlanta.

A participating chef since the first year, the executive chef of Aria joined nearly 40 other chefs at the Georgia Aquarium Thursday night for the event benefiting No Kid Hungry™.  The campaign’s goal is to end childhood hunger in America by 2015.

According to Share Our Strength more than 17 million kids in America — nearly 1 in 4 kids — are at risk of hunger over the course of a year.

Klaskala, who served his grandmother’s recipe for veal meatballs, was one of thirteen chefs who were honored for participating in Taste of the Nation Atlanta for ten or more years.

Chef Hilary White said it was event chairperson and CEO of Buckhead Life Restaurant Group Pano Karatassos who inspired her to get involved fourteen years ago.

“I was employed by Pano and really what he taught me as an executive chef is to give back and to do whatever you can,” said the executive chef at The Hil, a restaurant at Serenbe.  “Kids shouldn’t be hungry, especially in our country.  So to do anything I can to be a part of helping that, that’s fantastic.”

Playing off the nonprofit’s abbreviated name, Chef White created a dish she called SOS — shiitakes on a shingle.  Locally foraged shiitake mushrooms were served in a cream sauce on a slice of toast.

The gourmet fare at Taste of the Nation Atlanta ranged from whimsical and savory to rich and sweet.  With sushi, steak, bison burgers, duck sausage, thai curry and more, chefs offered something for every taste.  And for those who had room for dessert, there were cannoli, cookies and a chocolate fountain.  The food was complemented by a selection of wines, spirits and Belgian beers.

Serving English pea soup with bacon oil, Chef Kevin Gillespie remarked that it was an honor to be asked to participate in his second year.

“SOS has been and will always be an organization that chefs should stand behind because they support causes that are near and dear to our hearts.  And if we can take part in that, and help raise money and help people less fortunate, then we’ll always support that.”

For Chef Jay Swift of 4th & Swift, the evening was also an opportunity to have a good time with fellow chefs.

“I get to come out here with a lot of people in my industry,” said the chef who has participated every year since 1997.  “It’s fun, it’s for a good cause.  It’s like reunion time for us.”

“It’s funny, after you do it one time you feel it’s almost like a family,” echoed Chef Gillespie.

According to event organizers, the 2011 Taste of the Nation Atlanta raised more than $750,000.  The money will support Share Our Strength’s efforts which include enrolling children in effective federal nutrition programs, investing in community organizations that fight hunger and teaching families how to cook healthy meals on a budget.

For chefs including Chef Klaskala, their participation with Share Our Strength will continue until the problem of childhood hunger in America is solved.

“And if it it ever is, I hope we move onto something else where we can help.”

For more information on Share Our Strength and its mission to end childhood hunger visit strength.org.

Click here to see more photographs from Taste of the Nation Atlanta 2011

A Pair of Kosher Wines for Passover

Searching for great tasting wines that are Kosher for Passover?  Look to one of the oldest New World wine producing countries — Israel.

I recently tasted a Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon from Gilgal, a new label from the Golan Heights Winery.

The wine is named after Gilgal Refaim, a site in the Golan Heights region in northern Israel.  It is a ring of more than 42,000 rocks placed in concentric circles by people some 5,000 years ago.  Like England’s Stonehenge, Gilgal Refaim is a site of mystery and wonder.

The 2009 Gilgal Chardonnay is made from grapes sourced near Gilgal Refaim and aged in oak for four months.  Aromas of golden apple, Meyer lemon and pineapple develop on the palate along with flavors of pear, melon and a hint of creamy vanilla and sage.  Good acidity throughout gives the wine a crisp finish.

Easy to drink, this Chardonnay a nice wine to have with hors d’oeuvres or light pasta, salmon or white fish.

The 2007 Gilgal Cabernet Sauvignon is a blend of Cabernet grapes from several vineyards and aged in French oak barrels for one year.  The wine smells like an Old World wine and tastes like a New World one.  Meaty aromas of woodsy earth and spice lead to flavors of plum and bramble fruit preserves along with baked cherry pie filling.  The wine is full bodied with chewy tannins, and better shines when paired with food.  Try serving the Cabernet Sauvignon with lamb, steak or strongly flavored cheeses.

The 2009 Gilgal Chardonnay and the 2007 Gilgal Cabernet Sauvignon cost $16 a bottle.  Both are Kosher for Passover but can be enjoyed by any wine drinker.

Read earlier articles on Kosher wines:
Yarden Syrah 2005
Galil Mountain Viognier 2008
Wines from the Land of Milk and Honey: Yarden, Galil Mountain and Golan

Vidalia Onion Museum Grand Opening

Can’t get enough Vidalia onions?  You’re not alone in your love of Georgia’s official state vegetable. After five years of planning by Vidalia fanatics, a museum celebrating the sweet onions is set to open at the end of April.

The Vidalia Onion Museum in Vidalia, Georgia will feature an array of educational exhibits that showcase the history and significance of the beloved onion. There will also be hands-on exhibits for kids and a Vidalia onion field.

The museum will open to the public on Friday, April 29th with a star-studded chefs luncheon and ribbon cutting ceremony. Participating chefs include Kevin Gillespie of Woodfire Grill, Gerry Klaskala of Aria, Tracey Bloom of Ray’s at Killer Creek, James Beard award winner Jeffrey Buben of Vidalia restaurant and cookbook author Gena Knox.

The museum’s grand opening coincides with the Vidalia Onion Festival.  The weekend of festivities includes parades, concerts and onion-eating contests. Visit www.vidaliaonionfestival.com for more details.

The Vidalia Onion Museum is located at 100 Vidalia Sweet Onion Drive and will open to the public on Friday, April 29th at 3pm.  The museum will be open Monday through Friday from 9am to 5pm with tours available on Saturday.
For more information visit www.vidaliaonion.org or call (912) 537-1918.

image from the Vidalia Onion Committee’s website

Cognac: Pleasing to Any Palate

Click here to see more articles about Cognac

Apricot. Orange peel. Vanilla. Cinnamon.

These are some of the aromas you’ll find in women’s perfume. They are also aromas and flavors you’ll find in Cognac.

So why does it seem like Cognac is mainly for men?

As a woman who enjoys Cognac, I want to change this misconception. With its warm and nuanced flavor Cognac is just as pleasing to women’s palates as it is to men.

Whether you’re female or just new to Cognac, allow me to demystify this spirit so that you can enjoy a glass.

I’ve tasted many kinds of distilled spirits and eau-de-vie but have always returned to Cognac. It’s a name synonymous with quality; all elements in a good Cognac are in balance. Cognac is a celebratory drink, the exclamation point at the end of a delicious meal or a pairing with chocolate, cigars or a fireplace on a cold night.

Is your mouth watering yet?

Cognac is brandy produced in and around the town of Cognac, in western France. Ugni Blanc, Colombard and Folle Blanche are the main grapes used to produce the wine that is then distilled twice. The resulting eau-de-vie is a clear liquid that is 35% to 40% alcohol. For at least two years the eau-de-vie rests in oak barrels which impart flavor and color. The final Cognac is a blend of eau-de-vie from several years, as determined by a cellar master whose skill and finesse produces a high quality spirit.

When smelling and tasting Cognac, you’ll want to be a little more restrained than with wine. Due to the high alcohol content you’ll burn your nose if you inhale deeply. Instead, hold the glass slightly away from your nose and take small sniffs to appreciate the aromas.

When you sip the Cognac take just a little of the spirit into your mouth.  Let it coat your tongue as you look for different flavors and sensations.

Your first feeling may be heat, but go beyond and you’ll find more:

Fruit notes — apricot, peach, orange, lemon, dried fruits
Spice notes — cinnamon, nutmeg, white pepper
Floral and herbaceous notes — rose petals, clover, lavender
Other — honey, almond, vanilla, cedar, toffee, coffee, butterscotch

With each additional sip your ability to pick out flavors will increase, as will your enjoyment of Cognac.

So don’t let any preconceived notions of who can enjoy Cognac prevent you from trying this French spirit. With this new knowledge and tips on how to taste you’ll find that Cognac can be pleasing to any palate.

This article is a submission to the 2011 Cognac Writing Contest which is sponsored by The Cognac Board with the support of the EU and France.

Dogwood Festival Celebrates 75 Years

Mark your calendars for the 75th Annual Atlanta Dogwood Festival!  From April 15th through 17th the city will celebrate the white and pink flowering trees with events in and around Piedmont Park.

This year the festival is partnering with the Atlanta History Center and Margaret Mitchell House to mark the 75th anniversary of Gone With the Wind.

A special festival booth will offer a variety of engaging history and literary activities, Poetry Out Loud performances and craft-making activities.  The Margaret Mitchell House will offer free admission on April 16th and 17th.

As in years past, the Atlanta Dogwood Festival will feature an artist market, international village, kids activity area and entertainment including live music and stand up-comedians.

You’ll also be able to enjoy a taste of the local food scene at the festival’s Friends of Dogwood Pavilion.  From 1 to 5pm on Saturday and Sunday more than 30 restaurants will offer small bites, along with a selection of wines.  Tickets are $30 in advance and can be purchased online, or $35 at the door.  For an additional $20 you can upgrade to the “Friends with Benefits” package that includes an open bar.

Other special events include La Fête (an international wine tasting Friday night), as well as a VIP party Saturday night inside Greystone.

This year’s commemorative poster (pictured) was designed by Atlanta artist Steve Penley.

The 75th Annual Atlanta Dogwood Festival is Friday, April 15th through Sunday, April 17th.  For more information including maps, hours and entertainment visit www.dogwood.org.